Unique Among Gems

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The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls.—Matthew 13:45

Here are some observations from various experts on the history and use of pearls:

“As products of living animals, pearls are unique among gems. In size, shape and even color, pearls exist in a stunning diversity of forms—far more than just small, round and white.”—American Museum of Natural History (www.amnh.org)

“Since ancient times, the pearl has been a symbol of unblemished perfection. It is the oldest known gem, and for centuries it was considered the most valuable. A fragment of the oldest known pearl jewelry, found in the sarcophagus of a Persian princess who died in 520 B.C., is displayed in the Louvre in Paris. The Latin word for pearl literally means ‘unique,’ attesting to the fact that no two pearls are identical.”—www.PearlOasis.com

“Pearls are formed inside mollusks such as oysters and mussels. They are formed when an irritant such as a tiny stone or bit of sand gets inside the mollusk’s shell. A lustrous substance, called nacre (also called mother-of-pearl) is secreted around the object to protect the soft internal surface of the mollusk. As layer upon layer of nacre coats the irritant, a pearl is formed. Light that is reflected from these overlapping layers produces a characteristic iridescent luster. This process of building a solid pearl can take up to seven or eight years. Pearls are quite ‘soft’ and … should be protected from extreme wear.”—www.Bernardine.com

Pearls became valuable as gems undoubtedly because they required no processing to bring out their inherent loveliness. It took time before mankind acquired the technology to polish gem stones into artifacts of great beauty.

The word pearls occurs just once in the Old Testament (Job 28:18), where it is likely a mistranslation of a Hebrew word meaning crystal, like ice. That more accurately describes a diamond rather than a pearl (cf., Job 28:18, ASV).

In the New Testament pearls are mentioned in Matthew, Revelation, and once by the apostle Paul: “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array” (1 Timothy 2:9). Wealthy women in Paul’s day displayed their affluent state using both gold and pearls. Two thousand years later, “basic black and pearls” is still the safe choice in women’s fashion, at least in western countries.

The wealth of the woman riding the scarlet colored beast in Revelation is conveyed by the words “decked with gold and precious stones, and pearls” (Revelation 17:4). In the next chapter merchants beholding the downfall of wealthy Babylon described her the same way (Revelation 18:16).

Jesus said: “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you” (Matthew 7:6). Clearly he did not mean literal pearls since the disciples possessed none, and even if they did, a sane person with pearls would protect them, not throw them away. Jesus’ use of the word refers to “pearls of wisdom,” and corresponds to “that which is holy” earlier in the verse. Dogs and swine were both unclean according to Jewish law, so Jesus told his followers to spend their time wisely when they dispensed the gospel message. According to Albert Barnes, “this verse furnishes a beautiful instance of what has been called the ‘introverted parallelism.’ … The dogs would tear, and not the swine; the swine would trample the pearls under their feet, and not the dogs. It may be thus expressed:

Give not that which is holy unto the dogs,
Neither cast ye your pearls before swine,
Lest they
[that is, the swine] trample them under their feet,
And turn again
[that is, the dogs] and rend you.”

The Pearl of Great Price

“The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it” (Matthew 13:45,46).

The wealthy women of Jesus’ day were able to use pearls to display their social status because there were “merchant men” able to supply them. Jesus used one such merchant man in this short parable, recorded only by Matthew. This merchant man had an eye for quality, and he knew it when he saw it. This might seem so extreme to others with no such eye, that they could not understand why anyone would do what he did. But we can imagine the merchant man enthusiastically saying, “But have you seen this special pearl? It is so outstanding I have never seen anything like it before. It is superb!”

Jesus is the one who “sold all that he had,” became a man for the suffering of death, and through that act was able to buy the condemned human race through his blood (Hebrews 2:9). In his eyes it was a great treasure and worth whatever it cost.

Likewise those who say they want to walk in the footsteps of Jesus must judge whether the opportunities the heavenly Father opens up to them are valuable in their eyes, or not. If the heavenly reward held out to the faithful disciples of Jesus was seen for what it is, multitudes would respond instantaneously by “selling all that they have” to gain that great prize.

This parable is similar to the one-verse parable that precedes it: “The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field” (Matthew 13:44). Verse 38 tells us “the field is the world.” This field contains a treasure to the man who recognizes it for what it is, but others do not. Because of what we are told, it is reasonable to assume the treasure requires work to get it, much as silver and gold is produced from ore that must be dug out of the earth.{FOOTNOTE: The ethics about whether the seller knows or does not know about the treasure is a distracting question. The parables were given to teach a specific lesson and were not meant to be generalized or extended into peripheral areas to which they may or may not apply.}

Note that the merchant man is looking for “goodly pearls” and finds what he seeks. The other man is not looking for treasure, but he finds it anyway. Both parables begin with “the kingdom of heaven is like unto …” Thus there is a lesson for those who come into a relationship with God during the Gospel age. Some seek God and do find him (Acts 17:27). Others apparently are not seeking him yet they have an experience that opens their eyes to what they need to do. Saul on the way to Damascus is a classic example of that (Acts 9:3-6).

The Gates of Heavenly Jerusalem

“And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God … and [it] had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates … and the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass” (Revelation 21:10,12,21). Frank Shallieu, makes these observations about the gates:

“In the case of the gates, no lineal furlong or cubit dimension is furnished. Instead the reader is informed that each gate measures ‘one pearl.’ Each gate is made not of pieces of pearl but of one huge global-like pearl, in the center of which is tunneled a rectilinear entry. And, of course, the gates possess the beautiful luminescent sheen characteristic of pearls. In looking at the gates, John would get the impression they are each carved out of one solid pearl, and they are perfectly formed with no fissures or breaks.

“The pearl represents Jesus’ costly sacrifice, one of the first lessons those who walk into the city will have to learn; that is, the only reason they could even begin to enter is because the man Christ Jesus gave his life for them. The gates emphasize the price the Saviour paid, his supreme sacrifice, which brings to mind his parable in Matthew 13:45,46. “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.” Jesus purchased the spiritual Church primarily and the world secondarily (Acts 20:28). Therefore, since each gate is a pearl, no person can enter the city without first recognizing Christ. Similarly, the brazen altar of sacrifice was the first thing a person saw when he entered the gate of the Tabernacle or the Temple (1 John 2:2; John 3:16). Messiah’s role was thus portrayed: “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). So, likewise, the lesson of the pearl-gate wall calls attention to this fundamental truth.

“It is good to stop for a moment and consider. The wall of the city rests on twelve foundations. No one apostle alone supports this wall or city—only collectively are the apostles a support. But in the case of the gates to the city, every entry calls attention to Christ, yet not one of these entries rests upon a single foundation stone (see diagram). One is reminded of the Scripture “For through him [Christ] we both [Gentile and Jew] have access [in the present age and in the world to come] by one Spirit unto the Father … and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone (Ephesians 2:18,20).”

The Keys of Revelation, pp. 550-552.



Pearls are a precious treasure. The names Pearl and Margaret (from the Greek margarites meaning pearl) show how the new arrival of a girl is welcomed by the parents. In Scripture these unique gems are associated with gold and precious stones. Until Japanese researchers produced cultured pearls about a hundred years ago, the rarity of pearls made them extremely valuable. For more than two thousand years they have been worn as a symbol of status and wealth. They are, in fact, a favorite fashion accessory of the queen of England. So valuable are pearls that John, in vision, pictures each of the gates of New Jerusalem as a gigantic pearl through which resurrected and rehabilitated mankind—a possible application of the pearl of great price—enter into the everlasting joys of the kingdom.